Northwest Odyssey - Part 2 Bindoon Pies to the Old Lost Port by Mike & Amanda Burton

Sunday, Sep 01, 2013 at 14:56

Mike & Amanda

Stabbing bursts of raw adrenaline always signals the planning phase of a trip. The excitement is palpable, boosted by habitual visits to four wheel drive and camping shops for those addictive last minute accessories.

Checklists are checked once again, drawers scrutinised…what have we forgotten? Backup wood supply from Bunnings in a Spacecase on the roof rack, next to the Maxtrax. Shovel, recovery gear and a month’s worth of food, supported by 2 months worth of alcohol….what can I say, travelling cross country is thirsty work!

The day we have been waiting for arrives, blue winter skies, icy winds and cotton wool clouds teasing us with possible rain. Cold, rain and canvas - not an ideal combination in my opinion. The Cruiser is ready - poised for action, fully loaded in the driveway with the Australian Off Road Odyssey trailer faithfully sitting behind, both heavily battle scarred veterans of past campaigns, wounded, fixed and ready to fight on.

The excitement is subdued as last minute stuff gets in the way. Lock the house, load the kids, worry about forgotten things, will the Cruiser start, are the batteries charged, is the fridge running….?

Filling up the Long Ranger tank at the Coles Express is always good for a laugh. People lose a battle with patience waiting for me to fill up so they can take my place. Cars come and go, the day moves on, people stare incredulously as I finally finish pumping around 300 litres and $500 worth of primo unleaded….still it should therefore be a long time between drinks.

Driving out of town, loaded up for an adventure is a the most sublime feeling. Hiding behind my tinting snatching glimpses of the commuters staring enviously at us across the lanes. I’ve been them. I’ve seen a fully tricked up rig, loaded and headed somewhere…probably the Simpson I think tom myself, or maybe Cape York…lucky lucky bastard, I say as I am forced to focus on my bland reality of my daily mundane trip to the office….well not this time matey, I’m not a Walter Mitty…this time it’s me/ us having a real adventure! WE are on our way up the great Northern Highway for a couple of months of unfettered freedom.

Amanda’s step-dad is a farmer with a busted wing. Recent surgery has sentenced him to weeks sitting on a veranda miserably staring out across the paddocks. “Borrow a trailer” we said. Come with us and we will guarantee weeks of ‘interesting’ tracks. Foolishly (hindsight is a wonderful thing) they agreed. Borrowed trailer with partially modified Hilux; they were right behind us with the agreement that Jeff must do nothing that could endanger the reattached tendons and other grisly repairs - we all would take up the load. and help out

The heater on, Willie Nelson belting out ‘on the road again…’ we gazed out at the rolling green, damp hills as we approached the famous Bindoon Bakery, THE mandatory first stop for a trip up north. In the carpark Jeremy Perks from Global Gypsies stopped to say g’day. He was on his way to have a second attempt at the Canning after the recent rains washed out the last one. Filled with best pies outside of Birdsville, dizzy from mugs of heavenly steaming hot, fragrant freshly ground coffee and satiated with the most delectable chocolate éclairs we waddled back to our rather clean looking rigs..thinking…this is really it, we’re finally off.

The first few days of a trip can be a little apprehensive. You are not yet in the comfortable groove of many practiced days of travel and set up. The first set up can be a lesson in re-learning old tricks and discovering where things are packed …or worse, what you have forgotten. Well we didn’t have to worry about our ‘newness’ being observed by others, having to turn away with newbie embarrassment – there were no people – big smile. This trip had been carefully plotted to avoid the human race. It’s not that I don’t like humans, it’s just that I don’t like all of them. Travelling seems to throw you right next to the morons, oxygen thieves and dipsticks of this world…don’t get me wrong - you do get to meet some fantastic characters, but… more often than not we end up camped next to Victorians with loud generators and noisy dogs, bogans with doof doof music at all hours, misbehaving grey gonads stripping green trees for a fire or the totally unaware and uncaring camper dropping litter and bottles all over the place. Others probably have a similar misconception when camped next to us, so we thought we’d do everyone a favour and look for those soul soothing, out of the way, hope-there’s-no-people sort of spots. We’ll placate the psychologists by appearing normal and visiting a caravan park and shopping centre every 3 to 4 weeks to wash, top up the food (and alcohol!) and have some forced social interaction.

The first night did just that – the Hill River proved to have an undetectable sandy entrance track concealed by blooming wattle bushes, only revealed by an accurate GPS reading. Once discovered it led us on to green grassed banks next to a stream swollen by the recent storms. Surrounded by eucalypts and acacia we set up slowly, relearning the old skills. The kids were kept busy collecting deadwood and building a large campfire for our first night away. Jeff’s past trip nickname came to be ‘wood whisperer’ for his uncanny skills at locating huge deadfalls, which he subsequently swung onto his broad farmer’s shoulder, guaranteeing a warm fire that night. Alas, he is wounded this trip, convalescing so the ‘wood whispering’ duties fall on the rest of us unworthy apprentices. What a great first night, crisp winter air, a raging fire, New Zealand sauvigion blanc (Oh no! Not city chardonnay-sipping yuppies surely? – what would Malcolm Douglas say? - Don’t worry Malcolm, there’s Corona in the Engel!). That night, we were four wheel driving warriors, planning our pioneering adventures into uncharted wilderness scoffing down Amanda’s magnificent pasta, washed down with huge plastic camping glasses of wine, with a beer chaser…god only knows what the livers will be like at the end of this trip! The first nights sleep was always going to be apprehensive – did we bring enough blankets, would the kids be warm enough? Would Amanda’s snoring keep me awake? (just kidding). All good, the Oddy’s queen size innerspring and feather doona did the job, Kate’s minus 10 sleeping bag was barely adequate, but that has more to do with her lizard like metabolism. Jack did well in his little tent, glad to have his own space, now he’s a big boy. Jeff and Pat had a lot of acclimatising to do. Borrowed trailer, sore arm all strapped up and lots of unfamiliars to get over. All in all they were quite pleased, no doubt the sedative effect of too much alcohol contributing to a reasonable outcome.

My camping mornings mean a lot to me. I’m the first up, the fire rekindled and the pleasure of sitting next to it in the big King Goanna, warming bare toes with a freshly brewed coffee quietly enjoying the dawn quietness and solitude. The morning chorus kicks off with the raucous squawking of the galahs, maggies and honeyeaters, followed by the brightening sky, the chuckling of the river and waking up noises as the others brace for the cold morning. Packing up, the kids do their customary sweep for rubbish and alien objects, usually we leave with much more than we came with - luckily we have two tyre mounted rubbish bags – leave nothing but footprints is the mantra the kids have been programmed with.

Back on the bitumen we skirted around Cervantes and zoomed up the new(ish) Indian Ocean Highway toward Geradlton. The Hilux in towing mode was showing to have a reduced fuel range which may prove challenging further on. Especially as the Cruiser’s gauge hadn’t moved yet. Navigating was proving to be a breeze with the iPad running the Hema and TomTom apps, firmly supported by a Ram mount. We were also trialling a new Sony action cam on the dash, a new competitor to the GoPro Hero cams. The memorial to the sinking of the HMAS Sydney is an exquisite piece of art and very moving. The lost sailors represented by one seagull each – I remember my royal navy father always saying that seagulls were sailor’s souls. The mother or wife looking offshore, futilely waiting forever for her loved one to return, overshadowed by the huge representation of a ship’s bow.

The old Geraldine lead mine townsite near Kalbarri was operated by Cornish miners during the 1850s. Not much is left now except a river and solitude. Our chosen track was quite rough and led us to the river with much evidence of recent flooding. Another quiet place with large amounts of fire wood. Amanda and the kids found some old blue pottery amongst the ruins.

The day was chilly, more people heading south than north, probably escaping from the recent heavy rains and floods with most northern roads closed. We drove the long wet red dirt track to the old long forgotten port of Gladstone which was gazetted as a town site in 1891. The port was used to ship out wool and sandalwood with parts of the stone causeway and timber jetty remaining. The WA Department of the Environment have 'jazzed' up bits with their bollards and gravel - their view of camping perfection (ha!). The old port provided another semi isolated overnighter with a lot of seemingly permanent grey nomads dotted here and there with little gardens and other evidence of desired permanency. I often wonder if Victoria “is the place to be” why they are all over here? Maybe that is why the slogan changed to “on the move”?

Well tomorrow the adventure really starts – we head to the Gascoyne River and the western side of the Kennedy Ranges for little known tracks over the top….. See you at Part 3.

Mike & Amanda
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